Termination Letter Comes Back to Haunt Employer

Making the decision to terminate the employment relationship and conducting the termination meeting are two of the most difficult responsibilities managers have. No termination is ever completely risk-free. Managers should partner with their HR representative and legal counsel to ensure the termination decision is made objectively, supported by a legitimate business reason, and based on job-based criteria that are consistently applied.

I generally do not recommend providing a “termination letter” stating employment is being terminated and the reason(s) why. It is often unnecessary and has the potential to create legal complications after the fact. I do urge managers to be clear and unequivocal in letting the employee know their employment is being terminated, the separation decision is final, and the legitimate, performance-based reason(s) for their separation. The manager needs to be clear, concise, and accurate in telling the employee the reason(s) for her or his termination of employment. Failure to do so can come back to “haunt” you after the fact.

In the recent case of McNeely v. Kroger (E.D. Mich. 2014), a court allowed a meat department employee to proceed with a suit under the Family and Medical Leave Act, in part, because the performance issues Kroger claimed were among the reasons for the employee’s dismissal were not included in the termination letter she received. In litigation, Krogernext hit claimed it fired previous hitMcNeelynext hit because of ongoing performance and attendance issues including leaving work without permission, failing to clock out, and not returning meat to the cooler before leaving. However, the termination letter said only that Kroger was terminating McNeely for “leaving work without permission.”

If you write a termination letter, be sure to include all the reasons for separation to avoid a situation like this one. Contact MSEC for help in conducting involuntary terminations, and look for our new workshop, “Practical Tools for Managing the Termination Process,” coming in 2015.